Whenever the subject of funeral planning comes up, the topics almost always revolve around the what, where, and how of the process. What did the deceased wish to have done to his or her remains? Where will the funeral and interment be held? How will everything be paid for?
One question often overlooked is who. Who is responsible for planning the funeral? While it might seem like there’s a simple answer to that question (the Executor of the estate or next of kin), there are a lot more complex layers involved—especially if the deceased had a large family.
- Spouse: In most situations in which the deceased leaves a spouse behind, he or she is the primary decision-maker when it comes to funeral planning. However, spouses are almost always the ones most affected by death, which means that they may not be emotionally equipped to handle everything themselves.
- Parents: If the deceased was young or single, parents are typically named the next of kin. Since burying a child (no matter how old he or she was) is one of the most painful things a person can go through, this is another situation in which emotional support may be needed. If both parents are involved, however, there is rarely another outside party participating in the funeral planning process.
- Executor to the Estate: The individual responsible for funeral planning doesn’t have to be a relative. As long as you make advance funeral arrangements (or draft a will), you can place your assets into the hands of anyone you trust to make the right decisions on your behalf. This type of person is especially ideal if you have all the funeral arrangements pre-planned, or if you have a large estate to be divided amongst your descendants.
- Next of Kin: Next of kin is applicable in situations in which the deceased didn’t name an Executor and has neither a spouse nor living parents. From there, next of kin includes adult children, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
However, just because there is a kind of “pecking order” for funeral planning, that doesn’t mean the answer always comes easily. When a parent dies, for example, all the adult children may wish to participate in the funeral plans—and conflicting opinions are common during this time. Additionally, there are often well-meaning but intruding relatives who may provide advice or services that you neither need nor want during this difficult time.
How to Support a Grieving Family
A good rule of thumb for this kind of situation is to be prepared to offer as much—or as little—help as is required of you. Some families prefer to make death a quiet, internalized affair, while others encourage everyone to participate openly in grief and funeral planning. Both of these are perfectly acceptable, and your job is to determine where you fit and to respect the family’s wishes accordingly.
Although it can be difficult to sit back and allow a fellow family member to go against your wishes while planning a funeral, the truth is that there is only so much you can legally do unless you are the next of kin. And while you might wish to participate in more than just attending the funeral, it’s best not to offer advice or funeral planning help unless you’ve been asked.